20 August 2007

Somalia: Rwanda Trains Forces

Kigali — Rwanda is currently offering professional military training to Somali government forces in a bid to enable them deal appropriately with the raging conflict in the troubled Horn of Africa country.

"Following requests from the African Union and the Somali Transitional Federal Government to contribute to the peace process in Somalia, Rwanda pledged to provide professional training to the TFG's forces, and that has started," Military Spokesman Major Jill Rutaremara said yesterday.

He said that the training of the Somalis started on May 21 at RDF military schools. He however declined to disclose the duration of the training, and the exact venues where it is being administered from.

"The training is being funded by Rwanda and it is in line with the Rwanda Defense Forces' constitutional obligation of Regional and International peace maintenance," said Rutaremara. Rwanda has thousands of military and police peacekeepers in various parts of the world including Sudan's Darfur, where a hybrid AU-UN force is expected to take over from an exclusive AU mission later this year.

Other African countries contributing to Somali peace process include Uganda - the only country that has so far sent peacekeepers to the troubled country - Ethiopia and Tanzania.

Earlier this year, Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf visited Rwanda and personally requested the latter to contribute to the peacekeeping mission in his country. However, President Paul Kagame later promised that Rwanda would provide any form of contribution including training but peacekeepers since it was already engaged with several other peacekeeping operations.

Meanwhile Uganda's Defence Minister Crispus Kiyonga said last week in Kampala that Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, and the African Union (AU) were considering modalities of training Somali forces into a modern army. He said the training would most likely take one year.

Kiyonga said his government would soon send another 250 troops in addition to the current 1,500 Ugandan peacekeepers in Somalia.

The peacekeepers are there to protect the Transitional Federal Government and its installations, develop the capacity of the forces and also protect distribution of relief.

"We are both encouraging dialogue and building capacity in Somalia. That was part of our mandate and we shall go ahead. But we are still talking with AU and if all goes well in less than a month we shall have sent the troops," Kiyonga said.

Other countries that had promised peacekeepers are still reluctant to commit their troops to the mission, which is still considered by critics as risky. Kiyonga said because of the constrained small peacekeeping force, the mission was limited to protecting the president, premier and airport, which is vital for the incoming supplies and the seaport.

However, Kiyonga said that Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania will train the Somalis independent of Ethiopia, which has been accused of occupying Somalia.

Ethiopian troops single-handedly secured Boidoa - the seat of the TFG - in December 2006 from the Islamic militants who had threatened to dislodge the transitional government.

Authorities in Kampala disclosed that the Somali Defence Minister met his Ugandan counterpart to access the situation recently.

Kampala is worried that the African countries that had promised to offer troops for the peacekeeping mission may after all not honour their commitments.

But Ugandan officials argue that when the UN takes over the mission from the poorly financed AU "things could improve."

Since early this year, the peacekeepers have only been paid the salaries for March and April yet at the end of July, the mandate was extended by six more months.

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